Green building is not well defined at this time. It can mean different things to different people. Is it
energy efficiency? Is it reusing materials? High tech?  Low tech? Solar? Super insulated? After 20
years of building and studying the research, I decided that it was time to sit down and sift through the
studies and decide what are the most cost effective ways to build a home that would be energy
efficient, comfortable to live in and make sense economically now and in the future. I talked to
building officials,manufacturers, engineers, installers and completed a course in green building.
There were many options. Many opinions. Many conflicting opinions. For me, the number one goal
had to be cost effectiveness. The cost/payback ratio had to be kept to a minimum. Information had to
be based on actual statistical data rather than opinion or marketing. The following are the results. I
refer to this way of building as Smart Green.
Orientation and location. At this latitude, homes should be built on an east west axis. Long side
facing south. On a level building lot, the home should be placed to the northern setback. This will
provide the maximum winter sun while minimizing the east west solar gain during summer months. In
earlier times this was well understood. But with the advent of modern heating and cooling systems,
these basic principles have become less utilized.
Structure. Again at this latitude, homes should have the long side no more than 1.3 times the length
of the short side. This yields a high ratio of heated interior space to exterior wall. The majority of the
 windows should be placed on the south facade with properly sized overhangs that shelter out the
high summer sun and let in the low winter sun. Following these basic design principles alone will
result in a home that is more energy efficient, more comfortable to live in, and has less need for
daytime lighting.
There were many good arguments on this one. But ultimately I came to the conclusion that closed
cell foam was worth the extra expense in this cold climate. It has the highest R value (how well it
insulates) per inch and the least thermal drift. It is not well known that the commonly used fiberglass
insulation looses its insulating value in direct ratio to temperature differential. As it gets colder
outside its insulating value goes down, just when you need it the most! Closed cell foam is much
more stable. In addition, it provides a vapor barrier at just 1.5" thick. This puts the dew point  in the
foam which, with the addition of a properly installed exterior membrane, virtually eliminates the
chance of mold.
Closed cell foam is sprayed into the wall cavities and adheres to all of the surfaces controlling air
infiltration with the added benefits of providing increased structural rigidity and a very high level of
noise control.
In addition to the closed cell wall cavity insulation, we also insulate the foundation walls on the
exterior with 2" closed cell foam. This allows heat to be stored in the thermal mass of the walls
themselves providing more uniform warmth . To complete the envelope we use 1 1/2 " closed cell
foam along with a sealed vapor barrier under the basement floor.
These are benefits that are not visible when the home is complete. But you will appreciate them
once you experience the energy savings and draft free comfort that they provide.
With energy costs rising and no end in site, this was an easy decision. A geothermal heat pump
operates at up to 500% efficiency. What this means is that for every unit of electrical energy used
you get back five! Using the earths stored energy, combined with safe electric power, many users
report an energy savings of up to 70% for heating, cooling and hot water.
The geothermal heat pump delivers a more comfortable air all year long without the hot and cold
spots associated with conventional systems. The entire unit is located indoors, so it is not subject to
the wear and tear of the outdoor elements. It is safe and environmentally friendly. The Department
of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency rate geothermal systems as the most
environmentally friendly way to heat and cool your home. There is no flame and no carbon dioxide,
carbon monoxide or other greenhouse gases emitted. The geothermal unit also provides heated
water that is circulated through the basement slab, providing a warm comfortable environment in
the lower level.
Fresh air intake is controlled with an air exchanger. This dramatically reduces heat loss while
supplying the needed air changes.
In addition, vaulted areas use ceiling fans to force warm air down in the heating season and provide
air movement when cooling is not needed.
As mentioned previously, one of the easiest ways to cut energy use is natural light. It's an added
bonus with a passive solar home. In addition, the use of florescent and low voltage fixtures in
selected locations will provide further savings.
Appliances are selected with an energy star rating. Manufactures are continually improving the
performance of household appliances and we take full advantage of this.
An option with smart green is to set up for dual fuel. An alternate heat source operating on another
fuel source, capable of supplying 100% of your heat, combined with a separate electrical service for
the geothermal, will qualify for this Xcel program. This has the potential to cut your electrical bill in
My strategy with regard to plumbing was twofold; reduce water consumption without affecting
functionality and reduce the energy usage in water heating.
Water consumption is reduced in two ways. Dual flush toilets have been in use in many parts of the
world for some time and are starting to gain popularity here. There is no down side. Why use more
water than is needed to do the job. We combine this with use of low flow shower heads. They
deliver all the performance without wasting water unnecessarily.
Hot water heaters have traditionally been one of the worst energy wasters in American homes.
Heating cold water in a tank 24 hours a day 365 days a year, when you only use it sporadically is
wasteful. I considered going to an in line (tankless) hot water heater and would have were it not for
the added benefit of the geothermal heating system. The geothermal unit is set up to deliver 160
degree water to an electrical hot water heater as a byproduct. Once again, this utilizes the earths
stored heat now to heat domestic water. What this means is that in the heating and cooling
seasons the water heater is just passing along heated water or just raising the temperature a small
I concluded that this was the most cost effective solution at this time.
I try to use natural landscaping whenever possible. There is evidence that we may experience water
shortages at some point in the future, so why waste it? + Keep the sodded areas to a minimum.
Make use of native plants and natural ponding areas.
I realize that this is more of a personal preference, but the day is coming so why not be ahead of the
Building technology as well as building codes are continually evolving. Smart Green is the result of a
20 year quest to build homes that perform better, use less resources and are more environmentally
friendly, without a significant increase in cost. The home building industry has traditionally been slow
to accept change. Builders are generally apprehensive when new technologies become available.
After all, this is the way we've always done it and its worked just fine, why rock the boat. Several
years ago  building codes started calling for tighter construction methods without requiring proper
make up air. This combined with an inadequate exterior membrane was responsible for the mold
problems you may have heard about. These homes all passed inspection when they were built. The
moral of the story; all aspects of the home need to be viewed as a whole. Smart Green uses only
readily available proven technologies that work together to increase the homes performance with
little or no increase in cost. Aesthetically I continue to adhere to the design principles of Frank Lloyd
Wright. They are easily embraced by the Smart Green philosophy.
In a world of energy gluttonous "Mc Mansions" Smart Green offers an exciting alternative. A
comprehensive approach to home building that enables its occupants to live more comfortably,
economically and environmentally friendly right now, as well as, in the future.